Every student with a paper assignment and a deadline looming has probably wondered, “How do I get started?” or “How do I keep going?” or “What am I trying to say?” At a recent panel for Berkeley Connect English students, graduate students and professors opened up about their own writing processes. Here are some of the experiences and insights they shared:
Prewriting and rewriting
Graduate student Ari Dimmitriou bases his prewriting on the triage model, referring to the military method of sorting and allocating treatment to fallen patients on the battlefield. The goal of Dimmitriou’s prewriting, like the triage model, is to recognize what can live and what cannot. Dimmitriou organizes his ideas onto colored index cards, labelling them according to their importance: pink is Critical, orange is Urgent, and yellow is Low Priority. This method gives order to the free-writing and prewriting process.
As it is for many undergraduates, the hardest part about writing for graduate student Daniel Valella is starting. Daniel encourages students to eliminate distractions and create a setting conducive to writing. He shared his personal process:
Find a popular cafe with no wifi, at least 25 minutes away.
Invest in your work with a $4 coffee.
Fight for a seat.
Trick yourself into working. Once you have a few words down, it gets easier.
Professor Nadia Ellis explained writing as a process of rewriting. Ellis remembers that as an undergraduate, she was assigned a paper by a professor who she greatly admired. Hoping to impress her professor, Ellis set out to produce something great, but not until the night before her deadline. She describes the all-nighter as a journey through confidence, resentment, and then flow. Ellis felt good about her paper–until it was returned. Through her professor’s comments, she discovered that her conclusion directly contradicted her thesis statement. Ellis was mortified, but her professor was not startled. Writing, again, is a process of rewriting, a cyclical rather than linear process. Ellis encouraged undergraduates to work with the contradictions that come up in their papers, using the first draft to figure out what is known.
For Dimmitriou, writing offers mental solace and closure. For him, writing and thinking are inseparable. Critical writing is a platform to test and organize thoughts in a provoking way. So, the thoughts are clear only when the writing is also.
Valella writes, in part, to prove he can. He finds value in the complex reasoning mixed with creativity that critical research in the humanities offers. In his experience, the academic mind is not so far off from the creative writing mind.
Poetry was Professor Ellis’s first literary passion. Learning to close-read, Ellis learned to make new associations with words and perceptions. She finds herself going back to the creative and symbolic practice of poetry in her critical work.
The writing process is closely tied to the thinking process. And as no two minds are exactly alike, writing comes in unique forms and voices. It was encouraging to hear from how Ari, Daniel, and Professor Ellis have shaped their writing minds and have continued to form and adopt new methods.
posted by Gloria Choi
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant